Bullock Says House’s $9 Billion Budget Still Needs Work

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that the House budget proposal still needs work when it hits the Senate.

The House earlier this week unanimously advanced Montana’s $9 billion main spending bill, clearing the chamber even though both sides said they will seek changes in the Senate.

Bullock said that he agrees changes are needed, such as some low-cost priorities reinstated, like more money for an overwhelmed public defender’s system and expanding a program aimed at keeping troubled students in school.

The Democrat also said it was a mistake for the House to axe federal family planning money.

“There are still some of my priorities that I would still like to see in that bill, but this is a process and it is good it is onto the Senate for the next step of the process,” Bullock told reporters.

The governor said he thinks there is “common agreement” on most areas and that the work is only needed “around the edges.”

He pointed to votes in the House a day earlier to advance competing partisan fixes for the state’s beleaguered pension system as another sign of growing bipartisanship.

The governor was still trying to convince Republicans to support his plan to use federal health care overhaul money to expand Medicaid coverage to more Montanans. That proposal received a committee hearing on Monday.

The governor said he doesn’t like a Medicaid counter-proposal Republicans are cooking up that would use state money alone to help some low-income Montanans buy private insurance. Bullock said it would not be as effective.

“I think we have a long way to go, they have a long way to go. I am still optimistic and hopeful that we’ll come out of the session knowing that we have done some great things to create jobs and invest in our public system of education to take care of addressing health reform and provide opportunities for Montanans,” Bullock said.

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